Safe Return to School Puts Kids First

September 1, 2020
Back to school written on chalkboard, with school supplies

By Elizabeth Darling, Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families

On August 12, 2020, President Trump and Vice President Pence welcomed Americans - mothers, fathers, teachers, pediatricians, and health care experts - to the White House to recognize the importance of safely returning to school Visit disclaimer page this fall and putting kids first. Likewise, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recognizes that the infrastructure of schools plays a critical role in supporting the whole child – their physical and mental health, as well as cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social functioning.

While children are at extremely low risk Visit disclaimer page for serious illness, hospitalization, or death from COVID-19, they face significant and long-lasting harm due to unnecessary and prolonged school closures. ACYF programs can most effectively serve the holistic needs of young people when we partner with public and private schools, local community and faith-based educators, and their parents by putting kids first on their safe return to school.

  • Schools have the ability to provide a daily safe environment for children or youth experiencing family, domestic, or dating violence. Some of these families are also being served by ACYF’s Family Violence Prevention and Services sheltering and support systems. Children and youth in foster care also benefit greatly from being in the classroom where educational resources and additional services are more readily available.
  • Schools staffed by caring adult teachers and counselors have a pivotal role in supporting the mental health needs of children who experienced inappropriate bullying over social media, and point them to mental health resources to treat depression and prevent suicide before it’s too late.
  • Schools implementing “Handle with Care” programs have helped children exposed to crime, violence, or abuse receive appropriate trauma-informed interventions by the teachers who see them in the classroom to lessen the impact of traumatic situations.
  • School programs in many states provide Sexual Risk Avoidance Education, teaching middle and high school youth the value of success sequencing for poverty prevention: 1) graduate from high school; 2) get a full time job; and 3) wait until marriage to have children. Curriculum also emphasizes personal responsibility, self-regulation, goal setting, healthy decision-making, a focus on the future, and the prevention of youth risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol use without normalizing teen sexual activity.
  • School district homeless liaisons coordinate with ACYF’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Program grantees who provide housing or conduct outreach to runaway and homeless youth to ensure they have access to a variety of school programs and services.
  • Schools and parents are integral to Positive Youth Development, because they open doors to a variety of opportunities for children to be involved in the community, learn, and have access to protective or preventive services for neglect, child abuse, or domestic violence, putting kids on the path to brighter futures.

ACYF puts children first and will continue to support our kids as they safely return to school this fall.